Duluth Council unites behind mayor's mask mandate

Councilors all say they support the mayor's decision on masking, even though they were divided when it came to enacting the same policy.

A pair of N95 masks
Health authorities are recommending the use of close-fitting, medical grade masks, such as the N95 version, to slow the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 omicron variant.

DULUTH — After failing to pass an emergency ordinance requiring people to wear masks inside public spaces, all members of the Duluth City Council signed a letter of support for Mayor Emily Larson’s decision to impose an identical city-wide mask mandate just a few days later.

The emergency ordinance introduced by Terese Tomanek, councilor at large, that the council took up Monday could only have passed with a unanimous vote, and two councilors — Derek Medved and Roz Randorf — did not support it.

Yet all nine members of the City Council joined to sign a letter Friday thanking Larson for taking action to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community. The mask mandate was slated to go into effect at 5 p.m. the very same day.

Council President Arik Forsman sees no inconsistency, noting that while the council did not unanimously vote to mandate mask use itself earlier this week, it did unanimously pass an emergency resolution requesting that Larson “exercise her executive powers to safeguard the community, as needed, during the COVID-`19 community health crisis.”

Arik Forsman portrait
Arik Forsman
Lynnette's Portrait Design

In Thursday’s letter, councilors urged people to mask up, even as they recognized the challenges businesses and other organizations will face in requiring people to comply.


“We ask for all Duluthians to give each other grace during this time and direct any frustration regarding this decision toward their elected leaders, like us, and not front-line workers just helping folks follow the rules,” the letter said.

The temporary emergency mask mandate is to remain in place for 30 days and was largely precipitated by the recent emergence of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is highly contagious and has led to a surge in COVID infections that threatens to overwhelm local hospitals.

While Forsman acknowledged the City Council does have authority to pass emergency ordinances, as it has in the past, he questioned if it was best positioned to direct public policy amid a dynamic health emergency, such as the one the city now is experiencing.

“Given everything that’s going on with COVID, and the complexity of making public health decisions, I think the Council also recognized we’re a body of part-time local elected officials that is set up to really take its time, when the process works normally. And that’s not what COVID is requiring of us. COVID is requiring us to make decisions that maybe didn’t make sense yesterday but make total sense today,” he said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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